Like so many others, most current Made In employees have spent time working in the food + beverage industry. Combined, our employees have worked pretty much every job in the industry, from dishwasher (Jake) to prep cook (George) and beyond. In My Time on the Line, we'll be profiling Made In employees with ties to the food + beverage industry. This edition focuses on Made In Director of Lifecycle Marketing Donald Smolik.
We are proud to support our partners in the food + beverage industry through the Southern Smoke Emergency Relief Fund, and we want to share with you firsthand why this is a cause close to our hearts.
1. How and when did your love for food begin, Donald?
I don’t have the quintessential story when it comes to when I developed a passion for food and cooking. No fond memories of being propped up on a stool as a child next to my grandmother as she taught me the secrets to her chicken noodle soup come to mind. My grandparents did actually own a restaurant in my hometown, but this was back in the 1950s and obviously way before my time. So you might say it was always “in my blood,” but it didn’t surface in me until later in life. I grew up in a large family and food was definitely a big part of my childhood, but I remember being more focused on what Ninja Turtle or Power Ranger I was going to be on any given day rather than on learning any family recipes.
2. How did you first get involved with the food + beverage industry? What did that experience mean to you?
I was doing landscaping in high school and had a friend who worked at a steakhouse in my hometown called Wieting's (pronounced wittings). She told me they were looking for servers and that she made good money on tips, so I swapped out my gloves and shovel for a bib apron and pen.
At the steakhouse, servers got a free meal every shift. As I built up a rapport with the cooks, they started showing me the ropes and eventually let me cook my own shift meal. I was hooked instantly and began learning everything I could about cooking.
Looking back, I had no idea how that job would shape the rest of my life. So in a sense, it means everything to me.
3. What are all the ways in which you’ve been involved in the food + beverage industry?
After Wieting's, I worked at Austin-based Italian chain Johnny Carino's. While there, I worked pretty much every single position from server to, eventually, assistant general manager. Bartender, line cook, front of house manager, kitchen manager, corporate trainer — you name it, I did it at Johnny Carino's. Working there gave me invaluable experience in every aspect of restaurant life.
After leaving Johnny Carino's, I worked in the kitchen at former Rainey Street staple NO VA before leaving to work in email marketing at Austin food delivery startup Favor and, now, Made In!
4. What do you miss most about working in restaurants?
There is a camaraderie and connection you make with people when you work together in a restaurant — I miss that the most. I’ve made incredible friends over my years in the industry that are still a part of my life to this day. I do not miss scrubbing ovens and floors at 2 a.m. every night after a 12 hour shift!
5. Did your involvement in the food + beverage industry change you as a person? If so, how?
100%. It really shaped who I am today. It has given everything to me. It helped ingrain in me a work ethic that I carry with me every day. There is a philosophy in restaurants — especially in the kitchen — that you set others up for success. Meaning, you make sure the person that works your station next has everything they need to execute their job, and they in turn do the same for you.
This is something I still strive for in my marketing career. I think through every campaign I develop and how it will impact other people/departments within the team. I make sure everyone has what they need to help make the campaign a success.
6. Can you speak to what the work being done by Southern Smoke’s Emergency Relief Fund means to you given your connection to the food + beverage industry?
Southern Smoke is a perfect example of the familial connection that is made within the food + beverage industry. In the industry, there is a deep sense of responsibility to take care of people first and the restaurant second. This is exemplified by the Southern Smoke Emergency Relief Fund, which financially supports food + beverage industry workers experiencing various hardships.
I know all too well the uncertainties that come with working in a restaurant and that having a cash savings to float you for months at a time is non-existent for most in the industry. To have your source of income cut off with out notice is extremely devastating, and not knowing when you can get back to work is a fear that is currently flowing through millions of people across the country.
Southern Smoke is making great strides to help those in dire need of resources so they can make rent, pay medical bills, and literally put food on their tables. Restaurants have always been there for us; for our birthdays, anniversaries, date nights, dinners with friends, and nights out sharing drinks with the ones you love. It’s now our turn to return the favor and be there for them.
You can help support food + beverage industry workers right now with Made In's Southern Smoke Collection. All proceeds from Universal Lid sales and 15% of Knife Collection sales will be donated to the Southern Smoke Emergency Relief Fund, which provides funding for service industry workers in need.
Restaurants and bars have always been there for us, and it’s time to return the favor.